God’s Not Mad?

Sometimes it seems if it weren’t for billboards I wouldn’t have any topics for this blog. Poor theology can be found anywhere, but especially on the roadside. I think this is the case because good theology cannot be condensed enough to fit on roadside signs that are read while you are driving 60 to 70 miles per hour. A good summary of the gospel would result in print too small and too much to read in the few seconds the billboard is readable before you pass it up. This is similar to Twitter. You can tweet a short statement that is true, but you can’t say all there is to say about a particular topic in 140 characters.

As you have probably guessed, I saw another billboard that deserves some comment. This billboard said

God Is Not Mad At You
(No Matter What You Have Done)

I was appalled when I read the billboard. This is not just poor, unbiblical theology, but a gross distortion of the gospel. Maybe I misunderstood what I read so in order to better understand the message of the billboard, I went to the website listed on the sign. What do those who put up this sign believe about sin and forgiveness? First, God is mad about sin. Second, Jesus died for everyone’s sin so all of God’s anger was satisfied in the death of Jesus. Therefore, God is not angry with anyone. It is the goodness of God that draws people to him so you do not need to be afraid to come to God.

Apart from God being angry about sin, there are many problems with the message that is presented. However, there is one question that must be answered. If God is not mad at me then why should I be concerned with God at all? Why do I need a savior? I must be OK. If God is not mad at me then there is no way I am under his wrath. Evidently, now that Jesus has died, God is only love. That pesky holiness has been taken care of. Unfortunately, when you eliminate the importance of God’s holiness, which drives his wrath against sin, you destroy the gospel. The fact that God hates sin and the unrepentant sinner is vital to the gospel. As Jesus said in Matthew 9:12, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Few seem to take seriously Psalm 5:4-6.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
            evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
            you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
            the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:4-6 ESV)

God does not delight in wickedness; evil may not dwell with him. The boastful cannot be in his gaze, and he hates everyone who does evil. He destroys the liar, and he abhors those who kill and deceive. Note that King David is not just referring to sin, but also to sinners.

Psalm 11:4-7 gives us a similar message.

            The LORD is in his holy temple;
                        the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
                        his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
            The LORD tests the righteous,
                        but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
            Let him rain coals on the wicked;
                        fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
            For the LORD is righteous;
            he loves righteous deeds;
                        the upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11:4-7 ESV)

In this psalm David points out the Lord is in his holy temple. God is not simply in his heavenly temple; he is in his holy heavenly temple. His soul hates the wicked. David calls for the Lord to destroy the evildoer. Why? Because the Lord is righteous.

At this point, though, I can hear the protests. Don’t you know we live after the sacrifice of Christ on the cross? We live in New Testament times. Don’t be quoting Old Testament passages about God’s wrath towards sin and sinners. Well, we do live in a different time, but God has not changed. All apart from Christ are under his wrath. Consider John 3:36.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

Did you notice that last phrase, “the wrath of God remains on him?” We are born under God’s wrath and we stay there until God grants us new life in Christ. Romans 1:18 says God is currently revealing his wrath.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV)

As the verses following verse 18 show, this wrath is not just against ungodliness in general, but against ungodly people. In Revelation chapter 6 when the fifth seal is opened, we see those who were killed for their faith calling out for judgment.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10 ESV)

Revelation 19:11-15 shows the one who lovingly lay down his life on the cross coming in judgment against the unrighteous.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV)

Not only does the sign mislead people about our true status before God apart from Christ, nobody really believes the message of this sign. Many people do believe God is not mad at them because they are decent citizens and good neighbors. However, there are very few who would hold to the parenthetical message, the “no matter what you have done” part. Everyone has some sense of justice, and, even though our sense of right and wrong can be subjective, everyone believes that some actions are worse than other actions. Certainly God, if he exists, was angry with Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. Surely God is angry with murderers. Even if God does not exist karma will ensure justice because what goes around comes around. Some cosmic person or thing somewhere is angry with somebody.

So what do we do about this sign on the side of the road? Nothing actually. I have no control over what is displayed on any billboard anywhere. What I can do, and what you can do, is proclaim truth in a world full of lies. We must proclaim the truth of God’s holiness that results in his wrath against sin and sinners. But we must not stop there. We must also proclaim the truth of God’s love that led to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus suffered God’s wrath for all who repent and place their faith in him. God is mad at you and me because of who we are and what we have done, but there is hope, and this hope is found in a person named Jesus.

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Biblical Fluency

I recently attended a local theology conference. As one who is called to teach God’s Word, the speaker made a statement that really resonated with me. The speaker said it is time for the church to move from biblical literacy to biblical fluency. My first thought was “Absolutely, it is way past time!” However, my second thought was “Have we even reached the level of biblical literacy?” It seems that so many in the church are just at the level of biblical familiarity, and I’m referring to people who have been in the church for years, not new converts. This is not a new problem. Hebrews 5:11-14 says

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV)

The author of Hebrews has just been explaining that Jesus is the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (If you know who Melchizedek is you are probably past biblical familiarity.) He then interrupts his teaching to admonish the hearers on their lack of basic biblical knowledge. These believers need milk, not solid food, because they are still infants in the faith. Note the author says, “Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness.” Why do some people lack skill with the Word of God? Why do some people never get past the level of biblical familiarity? Why do some people never get past biblical literacy to biblical fluency?

I would like to suggest three reasons why many believers have not moved past biblical milk to biblical meat and potatoes.

  1. They prefer milk to solid food.
  2. They have only been fed milk.
  3. They have never fed themselves.

Milk Instead of Solid Food
Preferring milk to solid food is evidence of biblical laziness. In Hebrews 6:1-2 the author lists some elementary doctrines.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2 ESV)

These basic doctrines include the contrast between faith and works, baptism, ministry, resurrection, and judgment. Included in these are the concepts of sin, grace, election, regeneration, justification, propitiation, expiation, wrath, substitutionary atonement, and imputation. Systematic theology terms we are dealing with, but are not limited to, are theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. If you read these words and your brain starts to hurt and you want it to stop, it may be that you prefer milk. Going beyond milk requires too much thought, too much study, and too much work. You’ve never developed a taste for solid food because solid food takes too much time to prepare. You would rather quickly pour a glass of milk and down it. Your church may have robust teaching and preaching but you only drink the milk and rarely sample solid food. You only show up for the teaching that interests you. If you don’t see any relevance to your life in the teaching that is offered you skip it. Maybe other things in your life take precedence over solid food. You can get up early and get to work because you need the money, but you can’t get up early and get to church or make it to bible study. Are there opportunities for biblical learning offered by your church you just dismiss? This isn’t even drinking milk; this is skipping a meal. (I won’t address it here but it raises the question of why you aren’t getting spiritually hungry.)

Milk Only Menu
Another cause of biblical immaturity could be where you are going to eat only has milk on the menu. Attending a church that never goes deep into God’s Word could also be a sign of biblical laziness or biblical ignorance. Maybe you don’t know there are churches with a full menu, churches that preach and teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), or maybe you do know they exist but you don’t like that many menu choices. You want to stick with basic topics or teaching that doesn’t challenge you in any way. Churches with a limited menu teach on topics that are “relevant.” The people need to know how to make their lives better. There is more teaching on family than faith, children than Christ, and doing than doctrine. There may be some doctrine but the doctrine is divorced from the rest of the Scriptures. Favorite doctrines are taught with the emphasis on how it benefits you. For example, the teaching is on spiritual gifts with no teaching about the giver of the gifts, or the teaching is on the grace of God and how you can make the most of it. The gospel may be presented as a way to have your best life now. True growth can only come from churches that are committed to teaching all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Still Spoon Fed
Learning to develop a taste for solid biblical food and attending a church that serves solid biblical food will move you from biblical familiarity to biblical literacy, but if you want to move from biblical literacy to biblical fluency you must learn to feed yourself. This does not mean you stop being fed by your local church because it is the local church that teaches you how to feed yourself, and the local church continues to introduce you to new biblical foods. Also, the local church ensures you stay away from foods that claim to be biblical but are not. We all need the accountability of the local church. What feeding yourself means is you also pick up your own spoon and start to dig into the Scriptures. You take the time to regularly study your bible, read theological books (not just Christian living books), and listen to reputable preachers and teachers. You begin to hear God speak to you through his Word, not just through your pastor or bible study leader. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of this.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14 ESV)

You become mature. Your powers of discernment, which refers to your ability to hear God speak in his Word, are trained by the constant, regular practice of studying God’s Word at church, at bible study, and on your own. The ability to distinguish good from evil means we can see things as God sees them. This is the same thing Paul tells the Roman church in Romans 12:2.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)

We renew our minds by being immersed in the Scripture and the result is we discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. In other words, we begin to think like God thinks. We certainly can’t think what God thinks (Isaiah 55:9), but we can transform our minds to his way of thinking. We can develop a strong biblical worldview. This is called biblical fluency.

Let’s encourage those addicted to milk to try some strained peas then solid food. Let’s all strive to move to biblical fluency. Make it a priority.

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The Method Reveals the Message

Recently I heard Michael Horton say on the White Horse Inn podcast, “The method reveals the message.” At first I just let the comment pass, but then it began to gnaw on me. The methods he was referring to are the methods and activities engaged in by churches. This includes worship service activities, outreach methods, fellowship activities, and so on. But do the activities of a church present a message? Surely the message is independent of the method. Isn’t this what we hear or read? For example, when it comes to church music I have heard it said, “The music style isn’t important. What is important are the lyrics.” Also, “It doesn’t matter whether sermons or topical or expositional as long as they meet the needs of the people.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what a church does or how it does it as long as the gospel message is presented. But can the methods and activities of a church obscure or change the gospel?

I have no doubt many churches with exciting worship services, loud music, “relevant” sermons, and non-stop youth activities love Jesus and sincerely want to spread the gospel. Many of these churches also have genuine conversions and I am grateful for that. However, do these methods and activities present a message? If so, is it the proper message? A large multi-campus church in my part of the world has the following on its website. (I have replaced the name of the church with a fictional name.)

Community Church has grown from a small group of people to a church of thousands because we do church differently. We don’t do what’s expected or, for that matter, what’s accepted. The music is loud. The message is bold. We value kids and love students. We do whatever it takes to connect people to God. We want to change the way you think about church, so come and visit us real soon.

The website proclaims they have different methods (“We do church differently,” “We do whatever it takes”), and they want to change how I think about church. Also, “The message is bold.” What is the message? The message someone receives from a website can be subjective, that is, it can differ from person to person. For me the message appears to be, “If you are bored with your church or bored at your church, check us out. We aren’t boring.” There are other messages there (good ones too), but that is the primary message I hear. Now, I know this church presents Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6); and this church wants its people to grow in the Lord. Is that the message being presented, though? The methods and activities promoted in that excerpt from the church’s website are meant to appeal to my sense of excitement and fun, and it does appeal to many. That church has a large attendance each week. Again, I’m thankful this church proclaims Jesus as Lord. I’m not questioning motives, simply methods.

But what if the website said something like this.

At our church we strive to embody Soli Deo Gloria – which is giving all glory to God. Our preaching is predominantly verse-by-verse through entire books of the Bible. Our teaching is focused on developing disciples that can explain well and live passionately their faith in Jesus. We employ a multi generational and simple approach to discipleship and ministry. Our fellowship is spontaneous, warm, inclusive, and joyful.

The methods listed here consist primarily of preaching, teaching, and fellowship. To me this yields the message if you are serious about learning God’s word, growing in your walk with Christ, and enjoying warm Christian fellowship, this is the place for you. These types of things should appeal to all true believers. Do I truly want to know Jesus more through the preaching and teaching of the whole of Scripture? Do I want to mature in my biblical knowledge? Do I want to be a faithful witness and disciple? Do I want to grow deep in fellowship with other believers? Most Christians would answer yes to all these questions. However, when they actually look for a church do they look for expositional preaching, solid teaching, and deep fellowship; or do they look for a specific music style, certain activities (family, children, youth, singles, women, or men), or messages that touch their heart? Evidently there are a lot that do the latter given what many churches promote.

I’m concerned that if my primary reason for attending a church is not centered on God’s word, I am focused on the wrong things. My purpose is not to pass judgment on any church but to get each of us to determine which methods are most important, because what we do, how we do what we do, and what we promote presents a message. Many churches that promote exciting methods also have good teaching, but solid biblical preaching and teaching is not what is advertised as most important. My question is if biblical preaching is top priority why not promote it as most important, and, if thorough biblical exposition is not what is most important, why not? Dr. Horton is right; the method does reveal the message, so advertise the methods and do the methods that actually transform lives. The faithful preaching and teaching of the whole of Scripture in the context of the local church is what God uses to bring true and lasting change.

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The Divine Waiting Room

I am so blessed to be able to sit under sound preaching of God’s word each Sunday. My pastor just began a new series through the book of Acts. As he was discussing verse 6 of chapter 1 he mentioned God’s timing. You know the verse. Before his ascension the disciples ask Jesus a question.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV)

As my pastor pointed out, this question reveals that the disciples still misunderstood quite a few things. However, my attention was drawn to the disciples asking about something happening “at this time.” Jesus replies in verse 7.

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 ESV)

In his own eloquent way my pastor told us Jesus was telling the disciples to mind their own business. It was not the place of the disciples to know the timing of the Father. I was struck by the fact that God’s timing is one of things we long to know but which God absolutely refuses to reveal. When will my pain end? When will I find a spouse? When will I get a job? When will we have children? When will my child repent? When will my spouse return? The bottom line is we don’t like to be in the waiting mode, especially when we don’t know when or if the wait will end. This is true for the serious and the trivial. I can’t count the number of times sitting in a waiting room I’ve wondered if I would ever get to see the doctor. Also, it seems we most want to know God’s timing when we do not like our current circumstances. We want to know when things will be better. When all is well we are not interested in when the good times will end.

I know there are some prophecies in Scripture with a time period attached (for example the prophecy of 70 years of exile in Jeremiah 25:11-12), but these prophecies are the exception. The prevailing truth revealed throughout Scripture is God’s timing is not our business. Just before the disciples ask the question in verse 6 the disciples are told to wait for the promise from the Father. Jesus does not give them a specific time when the waiting will be over. He simply tells the disciples they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” We wait for the return of Jesus. The bible tells of signs pointing to his return but nothing that reveals a definite time. Jesus even said he didn’t know the time of his return, only the Father (Matthew 24:36). The saints in heaven wait. In Revelation chapter 6 when the Lamb opens the fifth seal those who have been martyred for the faith are shown under the altar. They ask “how long?”

They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:10-11 ESV)

They were told to “rest a little longer,” that is, wait. There is a specific time when the waiting will be over (when the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete) but no information is given as to when that will be. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes sums it up well.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV)

The message we find in God’s word is we do not need to know God’s timing, what we need to know is God. When we truly know God we come to realize knowing God’s schedule is not what is important. Peter tells us we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Having us take a seat in the divine waiting room is one of the things God uses to grow us in our knowledge of him. Because we know God is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24), we know waiting is not in vain. Because we know God works all things together for good (even waiting) for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), we know the wait is beneficial.

The Psalms contain several calls to wait for the Lord.

            Wait for the LORD;
                        be strong, and let your heart take courage;
                        wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:14 ESV)

            And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
                        My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:7 ESV)

Isaiah chapter 40 contains one of most quoted passages on waiting.

            But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
                        they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
            they shall run and not be weary;
                        they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)

Strength for this life comes from trusting in the Lord and waiting on him. God’s timing is perfect, but according to his perfect will, he does not reveal his timing. He reveals himself through his son Jesus. He reveals himself through his word by the power of the Holy Spirit. What we need is Jesus, not his calendar.

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The Profound Mystery


One of my favorite passages of scriptures says…

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)

What makes this verse one of my favorites is that it shows us the glorious mysteriousness of our God.  You see, while the stuff of this world is all to often boring, predictable, and repetitious, our God is just the opposite!  The book of Revelation speaks of creatures who surround God’s heavenly throne 24/7 and never do they suffer boredom!  In fact, they are so constantly struck with awe that they never stop crying out….

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

This is our God!  Mysterious and wondrous in all his ways and we who have been called out of darkness and into his marvelous light will spend eternity delighting ourselves in Him!

That said, this blog post isn’t about the unsolved mysteries of God that won’t be revealed until heaven, this blog post is about reveling in one of the mysteries that God was pleased to reveal to us in the New Testament.  Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5…

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

And here we discover the very mind of God with regards to the marital relationship.  Here we discover the ultimate meaning of marriage.  Marriage is no invention of man, it is an institution of almighty God whereby he shows the world a picture of Christ and His bride the Church.

For me, what makes this so very exciting is the fact that it allows us humans to do what the rest of creation has always done; show forth the excellencies of God!  You see the scriptures tell us that…

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens. (Psalm 148:3-4)

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! (Psalm 148:7-10)

These passages show us that creation itself extols its creator!  And in Ephesians 5, Paul is teaching us that we who solemnly enter into God’s institution of marriage can know that our marriages join all of creation in declaring the glory of God.  You see, when Christian husbands selflessly and sacrificially love their wives as Christ loved his bride the Church (Ephesians 5:25), they become a picture of Christ to the world around them!  Likewise, when Christian wives submit in everything to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24), they become a picture of how Christ’s bride (the Church) submits to him in all things.  This is the ultimate meaning of marriage!  This is the profound mystery that has revealed to us by the New Testament.

My prayer is that God’s people would live in light of this profound mystery.  To all you Christian husbands reading this post…Love your wives sacrificially and selflessly!  Be a picture of your savior to the world around you!  To all you Christian wives reading this post…Respect and submit to your husbands in all things!  Be a beautiful and glorious picture of how the Church submits to its savior for the glory of our God!

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Redefining Our Terms

Truth seems to be in short supply these days. I think many would agree with that statement, but, in order to agree (or disagree), one must understand what I mean by truth. When I speak of truth I’m speaking of something that is objective. The words “constant,” “solid,” “unbending,” and “unyielding” come to mind when I think of truth. When we say the bible is true we are not simply saying it is factually accurate. We are saying what the bible teaches is accurate and true for all time. In other words whatever God has said in the Scriptures is just as true today as it was when written and will forever be true. Now, that is just fine if we like what the bible says. But what do we do if we do not like what the bible says? Many of you are already thinking of verse 18 of Romans chapter 1.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV)

God’s wrath is being revealed against those who in their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Notice Paul did not say, those who in their unrighteousness change the truth. The reason Paul did not say “change the truth” is because it is impossible to change truth. Any truth, biblical or otherwise, is immutable (unchangeable). No matter the time or circumstance, two plus two equals four. Truth is immutable because truth comes from God and he is immutable.

Even so, we as fallen people try to change the truth, which is actually suppressing the truth. One way we do this is by redefining our terms. The only reason for redefining terms is to justify sin. For example, we redefine the word truth. Instead of being something objective we make it something subjective. You can have your truth, and I can have my truth, even if they are completely contradictory. This is nothing new, though. In John chapter 18, when Jesus stood before Pilate, he said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate replied in a most postmodern way, “What is truth?” Pilate was saying truth is subjective. If truth is subjective, there is no longer any basis for passing judging sin. How can something be sin if a person is simply acting on their truth?

In order to justify homosexual sin our culture has redefined marriage. (I recently wrote about that here.) Also, we have redefined what it is to be human. The objective, unchanging truth is human life begins at conception. However, the definition of when human life begins was changed to justify the murder of unborn babies.

One of the worst redefinition of terms occurs not only in the world, but also in the church. We redefine God. God is love (1 John 4:8). This is objectively true. Unfortunately the definition of love is not stable, and our definition of love is all we want to attribute to God. Many characteristics of God are ignored or explained away, such as his immutability, omniscience, and omnipotence. However, the attribute of God that is suppressed the most is his holiness. Holiness implies an impossible standard. Since we can never meet that standard God’s love must overrule his holiness. We see this when the “church” says God approves of homosexuality and gay marriage because two people love each other. We see this when we are told a God of love would not send anyone to hell. Notice that in order to ignore holiness the definition of love must be changed. This definition of love says that if I love someone my highest goal for them is his or her happiness. This definition of love ignores justice. Nowhere does the bible set God’s love in opposition to truth and justice. Remember 1 Corinthians 13:6 says love “rejoices with the truth.”

Of course, the problem with redefining terms is it doesn’t change reality. Truth that is suppressed does not stay suppressed. As an example consider abortion. Through the recently released undercover videos about Planned Parenthood we find out that those who are performing abortions clearly understand those unborn babies are human beings. No one wants to sell and no one wants to buy a non-human body part. Even before the videos, though, advances in science have shown the humanity of unborn babies. This is embarrassing for those who want to defend abortion, but defend it they will, truth be damned.

Embarrassment is the least of our worries, though. The real tragedy for those who redefine God is the fact that redefining God does not change God. God is holy and no amount of redefinition will change that. What God considers sin is sin no matter how it is redefined. There is nothing that is covered (suppressed) that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known (Matthew 10:26), and you can be sure your sin will find you out (Number 32:23). Since God is holy and God does not change (Malachi 3:6), his standard is high and his standard does not change. The unvarnished, hard truth is we cannot meet this standard. The solution to this dilemma is not to attempt to change God or his standard but to embrace the truth of the cross. God is love, and God is holy. These truths gloriously meet at the cross of Christ. God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Jesus met God’s standard and took God’s wrath against sin on behalf of his people. This is our only hope because the truth that God is holy will one day no longer be suppressed. It will be evident to all.

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Faithful Unto Death

A common saying I hear today when someone has been going through an extended period of distress is, “They deserve some happiness.” The implication is, based on how bad things have been, it’s time for some easy living. The idea that we deserve some happiness is a gross misunderstanding of our true situation. No one deserves anything but God’s wrath and judgment. Anything we experience other than that is due to God’s mercy and grace, both the common mercy and grace he shows to all people and the special mercy and grace he shows to his elect. When it comes to believers that are enduring some type of suffering, many times the expectation is, when the particular difficult circumstances end, life will be better. After all, when Job’s suffering was complete God restored to Job twice as much as he had before (Job 48:10). This is not always the case, though. One of the churches mentioned in Revelation is an example of this.

Revelation was written to seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Jesus, through the apostle John, gives a specific message for each church. The messages follow a similar pattern, and part of this pattern is the acknowledgement by Jesus that he knows what is going on in the life of each church. (“I know,” is found in the message to each church.) For most of the churches Jesus gives praise then follows that praise with “but I have this against you.” I say most because he does not say this for the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. For these churches Jesus has no admonition or rebuke.

The message to Smyrna is the shortest message to any of the churches, a mere four verses.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’” (Revelation 2:8-11 ESV)

Jesus tells the believers in Smyrna he knows their tribulation and poverty. The believers at this time were experienced severe persecution. Clearly much of the persecution in Smyrna came from the Jewish population of the city as the text says the Jews of the city slandered the Christians. (Note that in the messages to the two churches that had no rebuke, Smyrna and Philadelphia, a “synagogue of Satan” is mentioned.) My purpose here is not to examine the actual persecution but to note what Jesus promises this persecuted church, this church for which Jesus had no admonition or rebuke. He promises even more suffering and tribulation. You would think Jesus would comfort this church by promising them relief from the suffering because of their faithfulness. Not so. After acknowledging their trouble he says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Jesus says the devil will throw them in prison in order to test them, and they need to be faithful unto death. Being faithful unto death means being faithful to the end, even if that end is death from the hands of the unbelieving world.

This reminds me of Hebrews chapter 11, the chapter of faith. After proclaiming many of the victories given to Old Testament saints the author flows right into the suffering and testing endured by many of the Old Testament saints. Note the change in the middle of verse 35.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35b-38 ESV)

Regarding Smyrna, Jesus does not explain the purpose for the further testing, but we know from other places in Scripture that testing is not without purpose. Testing is not so God can find out how we are doing. He does not give exams so he can assign a grade. His testing produces in us the godly character that brings praise and glory to our great Redeemer (see James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7, and Romans 5:1-5).

Jesus told the church at Smyrna the testing would last ten days. This does not indicate the length of the testing but that the testing would be complete. That is, the testing would accomplish its purpose. So also, testing in our lives will end when God intends for it to end, and it will accomplish what God has purposed. And sometimes the testing involves things going from bad to worse.

Fortunately the promise of more testing was not the last promise Jesus gave the church at Smyrna. He offers one more promise to those at Smyrna that are faithful unto death: the crown of life. What a promise! The crown of life represents the eternal life we have in Christ. Just as the believers at Smyrna did not deserve the crown of life so we do not deserve the crown of life. Being faithful unto death does not ultimately demonstrate our faithfulness to God but God’s faithfulness to us. As 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” We are right to be relieved and thankful when periods of distress end, but what Jesus promises is much greater than a return to smooth sailing in this life. The promise of eternal life, which is, as John 17:3 says, knowing God and Jesus, gives us hope when life’s circumstances are not improving and maybe even are getting worse. As Romans 5:5 says, this “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” This hope never disappoints.

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A Day of Mourning and Rejoicing

So the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled 5 to 4 that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right; thus, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. We used to say much ink will be spilled but I suppose now it is more appropriate to say many bytes will be consumed over this. It is a sad day on the one hand and a day to rejoice on the other. I’m sad because marriage has been completely redefined. According to Scripture marriage can only be defined as the union of one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-5). For the whole of human history, up until this generation, marriage has been defined the same way. So, it is folly for any government to legalize same-sex marriage since same-sex and marriage cannot coexist. By legalizing same-sex marriage the Supreme Court has redefined marriage, and, by extension, become the ultimate authority for the definition of marriage. When my wife and I were married, marriage was defined only as the union of one man and one woman. The definition did not include the union of one man and one man or the union of one woman and one woman. Including same-sex couples is a new definition of marriage not an expanded definition of marriage. The definition of my marriage originated with God. The new definition of marriage originates with the government.

Since God created humans only God has the authority to define human relationships. (This is one reason why people will accept almost any other explanation for our existence other than we are God’s creation.) Before this Supreme Court ruling when a state issued a marriage license they were just giving legal status to a God-ordained, God-instituted relationship. Now when a state issues a marriage license they are giving legal status to a state-ordained, state-instituted relationship. We have moved from God’s objective definition of marriage to the government’s subjection definition of marriage. If the state defines marriage it will continue to redefine marriage. Why should a marriage just be between two people? Other variations on marriage even now not acceptable to the majority are on the horizon. As my son said to me, “I will grow up in a very different America than you.”

When I grew up I was mostly like my neighbors and friends even if they never darkened the door of a church. Now, not only do I oppose legal (and illegal) abortions, I also oppose some legal marriages. Not only that, the associated hashtag for the Supreme Court decision was #LoveWins. So if I support biblical marriage am I also against love? From the world’s perspective I’m anti-women, a homophobe, and anti-love.

There is much more about this that makes me sad, but, so I can save some bytes for others, as I said at the beginning, it is also a day to rejoice. The Apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Always includes this period in our history. I rejoice because God is still on his throne. He is still sovereign and ruler over all things. I do not know God’s purposes in this, but one thing many others and I see is the gap widening between cultural Christians and true Christians. As Al Mohler said over a year ago, “There is No ‘Third Way.’” There is no middle ground on which to stand. Even more we will find out which churches will hold to the authority of Scripture and which churches will not (Here We Stand). We will find out who will attempt to show love by compromising Scripture, and we will find out who will truly show love by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). I am not showing someone love when I tell someone good is evil or evil is good (Isaiah 5:20).

Rejoice because we are entering an era of great opportunity. It’s time to stand out from the rest of the culture. Now when I’m falsely attacked for being anti-women, a homophobe, and anti-love, I can be much more bold in presenting the gospel. I’ve already lost the popularity contest. I can talk about God’s holiness, which is usually ignored, and his love and show how these are reconciled in Jesus Christ. I can lovingly explain that because God is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3) and we are sinful (Romans 3:9-18), we are under God’s wrath and condemnation (John 3:36). God does not overlook sin because he is love. As R. C. Sproul once said, “God will not sacrifice his holiness to save anyone.” But because God is love (1 John 4:8), his son Jesus took my sin and died on the cross to experience God’s wrath and condemnation on my behalf.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11 ESV)

As John tells us in his first letter God showed his love by sending his son to be the propitiation for our sins. (Propitiation means to satisfy wrath.) God says love is not celebrating sin (and God defines what is sin) but crucifying sin through Jesus (Romans 6:6). What Jesus did on the cross can be applied to anyone who admits they are a sinner and by faith proclaims Jesus as Lord.

The times are changing but the gospel stays the same. Ecclesiastes 7:10 tells not to long for the good old days so let’s press on as opposition increases. I pray those of us who truly belong to Christ will boldly and lovingly proclaim the unchanging truth of the gospel.

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Sign of the Times

Many churches have signs that display messages. Sometimes the message is the scripture passage and title for next Sunday’s sermon. Other times the message is announcing an event at the church. Many times, though, the message is meant to inspire or encourage the reader. Unfortunately these messages often cause me to sigh and shake my head.

One of my favorites (in terms of favorite bad messages) was “Jesus is coming back so look busy.” (Yes that really was on a church’s sign.) As terrible as that is, the top of my list of worst church sign messages is a message I saw several years ago. The message was “When you’ve done all you can, God will do the rest.” I found this message particularly appalling. This can be understood in different ways. An unbeliever may read this and think, “I just need to be a good person, and God will welcome me in heaven.” A believer (or one who thinks they are a believer) may read this and think, “As long as I pray, do all I can do, and have faith, God will step in and give me victory.” I’m sure this sign was intended to be an encouragement to the passing motorists, but the problem is this screams to the believer and unbeliever, “Do your best and everything will work out just fine,” which is a lie. This lie is quite popular. Who doesn’t want to believe that God is up there waiting to give us a helping hand with our agenda? Non-Christians work hard, are good neighbors, keep their nose clean, and it’s off to heaven when they die. Even if they have a few missteps God is willing to let bygones be bygones. Christians do everything non-Christians do plus pray, read the bible, confess sins, serve at church, keep the faith, and wait for God’s blessing.

The idea that we do our part, and God does his part causes us to live under God’s law. According to Scripture living under the law leaves us under a curse since, evidently, God does not let bygones be bygones.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:10 ESV)

Notice that everyone “who does not abide” by every one of God’s laws “and do them” is cursed. The word abide means to continue or remain. Thus, the verse is saying constant complete obedience is required. No one can accomplish this, and, even if someone did outwardly obey every law, the inward motivation would void the benefits of obedience since “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). If unbelievers are interested in obedience to God at all, it is for selfish reasons, not to bring glory to God. Unfortunately many believers also obey for selfish reasons. They are glad their sins are forgiven but the rest of life is a quid pro quo (something for something) arrangement with God.

Now some of you are thinking, “Wow, that’s harsh! There are some good-hearted people out there (especially me).” The problem is the bible is very clear there are no good-hearted people.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)

We look at the outward appearance and actions and say, “What a nice person,” but God looks at the heart and sees wickedness. From our perspective it is not wrong to think a person is nice, but it is tragic to think niceness has any eternal value. Our definition of good is relative but God’s definition of good is absolute and is based on his character. This is what Jesus pointed out to the rich, young ruler.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18 ESV)

For there to be true salvation we must abandon the idea that we do our part and then God rewards us with heaven for doing our best. Our only hope is if God does everything since only he can cover an infinite debt. Only God satisfies God. For there to be true life in the Spirit we must abandon the idea that we do our part then God steps in and fills in what is lacking. God gets all the glory. Our deeds on God’s behalf add nothing to our standing with God, because our deeds on God’s behalf flow from our standing with God. Paul says we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” and these works were “prepared beforehand.”

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

This verse shows that ultimately, all our good works are the result of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. As believers we stand in Christ lacking nothing. Jesus accomplished everything.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 ESV)

God, through Jesus, has done what we couldn’t do. The requirements of the law are completely fulfilled for those who walk according to the Spirit, those who are in Christ. Walking (or living) according to the flesh is doing what I can then letting God take over if I can’t get it done. Those who belong to Jesus should, by faith, walk in the finished work of Christ because “The righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).”

A church’s message, whether from the pulpit or on a sign, should never proclaim law without also proclaiming the gospel. A message of “Do your best and let God handle the rest” either leaves a person under delusion and under condemnation, or it leads a person to exhaustion and frustration. Maybe one day I’ll see this on a church sign.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”[1]

I’m not hopeful, though. It’s not a popular message.

[1] Hall, Elvina M. “Jesus Paid It All.”

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No Hell Is Not the Goal

Recently while driving home from out of state we passed a billboard with the message “Lust will drag you down to hell – James 1:15.” As one who does not want to go to hell I found the billboard’s message interesting. In particular I wondered what was the goal of the billboard. Did the person or persons who erected the billboard hope to keep people out of hell, stop people from lusting, or both? Also, what type of lust is being denounced? Typically when I see the word lust without any context I think of sexual lust. Is this billboard against pornography and other sexual sins? The referenced bible verse says

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:15 ESV)

The King James Version uses the word lust instead of desire.

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (James 1:15 KJV)

Evidently the creators of the billboard were thinking of the KJV rendering. However, using the word lust on the billboard without the original context of the verse misses the true meaning. The verse occurs at the end of the section where James explains that God does not tempt us to sin.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15 ESV)

The context shows the temptation to sin comes from our own sinful desires. We are lured into sin as a fish is lured by bait on a hook. These sinful desires birth sin and sin births death. This is what Paul says in Romans 6:23 where he says, “the wages of sin is death.”

The actual message of James is much different than the billboard. No one is dragged to hell. Sin is what we desire. Also, the message of the billboard taken at face value is, if I don’t want to go to hell, then I just need to stop lusting. The problem is that is impossible. We maybe can stop the outworking of sexual lust by blocking Internet pornography sites and other measures but it does not remove the lust in my heart. On top of that, even if I restrict the message to just sexual lust, that does not cover the many other lusts of my flesh. Sanctification is the process not only of eliminating sinful behavior but also of sowing to the Spirit instead of to the flesh.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 ESV)

The result of sowing to the Spirit is eternal life, which is much more that just not going to hell.

Most importantly, the billboard is deceptive because it has the wrong goal (stay out of hell) along with the wrong method (stop lusting) to achieve the goal. There is nothing wrong with talking about hell but my main motivation should not be to stay out of hell. My primary motivation should be to be right with God. Until the Holy Spirit takes the Word and awakens me to my sinful condition all my motivations for eternal bliss are purely selfish. At the moment of regeneration we realize we have sinned before a holy God, and we cry out to Jesus to wash us clean. Our goal is not to stay out of hell but to be with the one who sacrificed it all for us. Staying out of hell is a tremendous benefit of our salvation in Christ, but it is not the goal.

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